GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/17 December) — Rescuers have focused their search along the northeastern seas of Indonesia for over 300 fishermen from this city and nearby Sarangani Province who remained missing due to the onslaught of typhoon “Pablo” two weeks ago.
Marfenio Tan, former president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc. (SFFAII), said more rescue vessels proceeded on Monday to the seas off the North Sulawesi province in
Indonesia to search for the missing crew members of the close to 50 fishing vessels that went unaccounted following the weather disturbance.
“These are the areas where most fishermen who encounter offshore accidents usually drift,” he said in a radio interview.
Tan said three rescue vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and two others from the Philippine Navy and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources are presently leading the search and rescue operations.
Several fishing vessels commissioned by SFFAII were also augmenting the operations, which are being coordinated by the Task Force Maritime Search and Rescue SarGen (Sarangani/General Santos City).
Two islander planes from the Philippine Air Force and a P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft from the United States Navy were also scouring the area for possible sightings of survivors.
Tan said the task force is not inclined to call off the ongoing search and rescue operations anytime soon as it remained hopeful of finding more survivors.
He said President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III himself has been closely monitoring the progress of the search and rescue operations through task force chair City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio.
“So far, there were no orders (from the President) to stop the operations,” he said.
As of Monday, the task force said at least 311 crew members of fishing boats from the area were still missing after being battered by huge ways and strong winds while on their way towards the mainland of Surigao del Sur last Dec. 3.
The PCG station here earlier said that most of the missing fishing vessels, which were maintaining payaos or fish aggregating devices located around 115 nautical miles off the eastern seaboard of Mindanao, were already on their way to the nearest ports when the storm caught on them.
The task force cited that around 30 other “undocumented” fishermen from the area were also missing as a result of typhoon “Pablo.”
It described the “undocumented” fishermen as those who ventured out into the seas without documents from the PCG and operated unregistered fishing boats.
Navy Commander Lued Lincuna, task force spokesperson, said they have not set a timetable for the search and rescue operations.
“I can’t exactly say when we’re going to stop this. That will depend on the turnout of the survivors,” he said.
Mayor Custodio, who heads the task force, said they have not discussed the possibility of ending the operations soon as they have so far covered only a small portion of the target search area.
“Fishermen are survivors in the sea. While there were no significant sightings, we’re hopeful that these missing vessels and crew members were still out there drifting due to possible damaged engines and communication equipment,” she said. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)